Beekeepers Friend

Peaches' Beekeeping Blog

April 3, 2011

Engineers and Construction Workers

I answered a forum question with a short and sweet answer. I think that I might have been kinda insensitive and quick. The question was:


I transferred my bees to all new hive equipment. I put a new box on top of each the new colonies I am starting from the nucs I brought home. ( I have all medium supers) Everything looks great except that they are consuming sugar water at a crazy rate …..but what do I know I am very , very new… Is this normal?

The longer answer is two fold. 1) Yes, if the bees are in a nuc form and there is a dearth going on. 2) And yes, this is normal if the bees are in a package and just came from the shipper or you just hived a swarm.  Either way you will probably have some new foundation that needs to be drawn out.

1) The bees are putting the sugar water up for storage. The bees know there is no food out there. They have already had scouts out looking.

2) As far as the second answer, here is what I tell the new beekeepers that I am mentoring. You really don’t know how long the bees have been caged up and how long they have been in transit. You don’t know how much honey they had a chance to tank up on before they were caged up for shipment. They need some of that honey for energy. Sure, they have been sent to you with a can of sugar syrup, but do you know the mixture? Was it 1:1 or 2:1 or was it cut to 1/2:1? Second part: if you have a swarm how long ago did they swarm? How far have they flown? What are their honey reserves at now?

Bees manufacture everything in the hive except for propolis. In order for the queen to be able to lay eggs, the workers have to build a comb so she has a place to put her eggs. Here is the way I understand it to happen.

Whether a package or swarm, the bees have to have honey, sugar syrup, or high fructose corn syrup for energy to live, to fly, and to manufacture wax. When you receive a package, you need to feed lots of syrup, preferably 2:1 (2 parts of sugar and 1 part water). the same for a swarm.

The young  worker bees will chain themselves to each other and are fed honey or syrup so they can manufacture flakes of wax from eight wax glands located in the abdomen, four on each side. These flakes are almost water clear and the older worker bees will take these flakes and mold them with their mandibles and start construction of the cells, usually in the center of the frame or cross ways of the branch. As a cell is started, the queen will begin laying eggs forcing the workers to hurry and finish the cell. In the meantime some of the older forgers will start to collect nectar and pollen forcing the construction of honey cells away from the brood area.

There will not be a whole lot of extra nectar to store at this point as it takes anywhere from 6 – 8 pounds of honey to make 1 pound of wax. So the majority of the nectar brought in is fed directly to the wax manufacturers. At this point, there is limited nectar so the beekeeper needs to feed the bees. The food in this case is real close to the colony and they can work faster. If the bees have to look for the food any distance from the colony, then it will take more time to build the comb.

Now you have an idea of why we need to feed new colonies. If we already have comb, then the bees don’t have to build so much and can devote their time and resources to filling up the cells with minimal wax repairs.

If you still have questions, then the best place to get them answered is your mentor or at your local bee meeting.

You need to check your hives for weight and add empty supers if need be for the extra honey. Enjoy the new Spring time honey flow.

3 Comment(s)

  1. angi | Apr 19, 2011 | Reply

    Hi, I came over here from your comment on Money Saving Mom. My son (13) really wants to be a beekeeper and is in the process of earning some money to buy a hive. I’ve bookmarked your site. I’m sure we’ll be visiting often.

  2. ekpeach | Apr 19, 2011 | Reply

    Welcome,Angi. What is your son’s name? I am glad you stopped by and I hope you can get something out of my ramblings.

  3. Marylouise | Oct 22, 2016 | Reply

    Halljlueah! I needed this-you’re my savior.

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